September 22, 2010

Proposed zoning changes would allow wind, solar generators

By KATE S. ALEXANDER, The Herald-Mail, 21 September 2010

Wind and solar energy generators soon could be permissible in the City of Hagerstown.

Planning staff presented the Hagerstown City Council Tuesday with proposed changes to Hagerstown’s zoning ordinance that would allow wind and solar generators in the city.

Residents in the city of Hagerstown will be able to comment on the proposed zoning amendments at a public hearing on Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.

City land management code currently is silent on the subject of alternative energy, planning inspector Clayton Zug said.

Because it is silent, wind and solar energy systems technically are not permitted in Hagerstown, he said.

Planning staff used ordinances from Washington County and Cumberland, Md., as models for drafting language on the systems for the city code, Zug said.

Planning Director Kathy Maher previously said that the city has not been overwhelmed with requests for zoning permits from residents wanting to use alternative energy generators.

Staff proposed the amendments to prepare for if and when those requests start rolling in, she said.

Proposed changes to the city code outline the permitting process and limitations for solar collection systems, building-mounted wind energy systems, and large and small wind energy systems.

Free-standing, small wind systems would be permitted as an accessory use in all zoning districts, Zug said.

Large wind energy systems would not permitted anywhere in the city, according to city documents.

Wind systems could be no taller than 100 feet, with the height determined by the setback from the lot line, Zug said.

For every foot of height, the proposed changes require 1.1 feet of setback, he said.

In the proposed changes, no more than one free-standing wind system would be allowed per property and none would be permitted in front yards, Zug said.

Staff studied lot sizes in the city and found that many are too small for a free-standing wind energy generator, he said.

Building-mounted wind generators also would be permitted as an accessory use in all zoning districts. However, no more than one system would be allowed per property, according to the proposed changes.

Maher said the planning commission spent a lot of time assessing the impact of noise from wind systems.

The proposed language limits the noise to 55 decibels from all property boundaries, Zug said, which is slightly louder than what is considered to be ambient or background noise.

Using Washington County’s language for solar collection systems as a model, the proposed amendments would permit ground-mounted solar panels in industrial and commercial zones only, Zug said.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner questioned why ground-mounted solar collection systems would not be allowed in residential zones.

Zug said those systems tend to be larger and in more densely populated areas, and people tend to have more success when the panels are mounted on a roof.

Ground-mounted panels would be limited to no more than 20 percent of the overall size of the lot, according to city documents.

Building-mounted solar panels, which most often are mounted on a roof, would be permitted in all zoning districts with height restrictions in residential, neighborhood mixed-use and downtown mixed-use zones, he said.

In those zones, the proposed changes limited building-mounted systems to 12 inches in height on angled roofs and 4 feet in height on flat roofs, according to city documents.

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